A typical Rhode Island lobster roll sounds fancier than it is—mayo-loaded lobster salad on a humble hot dog bun. Phil’s Rhode Island lobster roll at Michael’s On East is not so typical. The “Phil” behind the roll is Providence native Phil Mancini, Michael’s co-proprietor. His uptown version is lusciously loaded with fresh, succulent lobster lightly dressed with a tangy, olive oil-based mayonnaise, lemon zest and celery. 1212 East Ave. S. (Midtown Plaza), Sarasota; (941) 366-0007.
Talk about hog heaven. Lee Roy Selmon’s pulled-pork sliders, drenched in their signature Kansas-style barbecue sauce and topped with apple jack coleslaw, are perfect in their porky, tender, juicy goodness. Yes, you’re going to get sauce all over you. Revel in it! Watch the game, grab a cold one and ask for a towel when it’s all over. 8253 Cooper Creek Blvd., Sarasota; (941) 360-3287.
If you’re crazy about pizza but trying to stay sane about calories, try chef Doug Bevier’s flatbread pizzas at Gecko’s Grill & Pub. These thin-crusted, crispy rectangles of non-doughy goodness come dressed in a variety of toppings. Our fave is the shrimp and blue cheese pizza. The splatter of balsamic vinaigrette adds a tart little kick. 4870 S. Tamiami Trail (in the Landings Shopping Center), Sarasota; (941) 923-8896, plus other locations, too.
The stone-baked soft pretzel with hot beer cheese dip at Cock and Bull Pub is so addictively delicious it’s earned the nickname “crack in a crock.” Served fresh baked and oven warm, the pretzels are lusciously moist on the inside and crispy crunchy on the outside. Dunk these puppies in the savory (and top secret) beer cheese dip and wash them down with a couple of Cock & Bull’s 700 beers. 975 Cattlemen Road, Sarasota; (941) 341-9785.
Forget any rubbery squid traumas in your past. The sweet chile calamari at Fleming’s will please you truly, madly and deeply. These melt-in-your-mouth, lightly breaded calamari are subtle and sensual: crispy on the outside and tender within. To further thrill, they’re tossed in a perky sweet and sour chili sauce. Pair them with a Fleming’s mojito and call it an octoperfect evening. 2001 Siesta Drive, Sarasota; (941) 358-9463.
Cosimo’s Too’s executive chef Chris Covelli and owner John Ganley are the geniuses behind Cosimo’s stuffed portobello mushroom appetizer. Two hearty portobellos are packed with sautéed spinach, shallots and sun-dried tomatoes, then slathered in a gargantuan Gorgonzola cream sauce. Paired with a peppery petite sirah or a velvety pinot noir, this is the perfect light bite—or the start of something bigger. 8201 S. Tamiami Trail (in Westfield Sarasota Square), Sarasota; (941) 927-3800.
When’s the last time you had a hearty bowl of stobhach gaelach? For those of you who don’t speak Gaelic, we’re talking Irish stew. And Lynches Pub & Grub’s makes theirs from an old family recipe. It’s packed with lamb, potatoes, onions, celery and fresh rosemary—but no carrots. Co-owner Christine Lynch explains, “In Cork, we didn’t use carrots; they darken the color.” What to drink with it? A pint of Guinness, of course. 19-B N. Boulevard of Presidents, Sarasota; (941) 388-5550.
Mattison’s City Grille’s grilled petite filet mignon is the perfect companion for a lonely dry gin martini. It’s not as beefy as a full meal but more substantial than an appetizer. This succulent bite o’ beef is served with roasted portobello mushrooms and sliced tomatoes spiked with horseradish sauce. Cheers! 1 N. Lemon Ave., Sarasota; (941) 330-0440.
To paraphrase Nora Ephron, lovers may disappoint you, but potatoes will never let you down. If you’re a spud lover, you’ll adore Old Packinghouse Café’s potato basket. A heaping helping of sliced Idaho potatoes—grilled or blackened—is pumped up with cheese, bacon bits and sour cream. It’s crazy love at first bite. 987 S. Packinghouse Road, Sarasota; (941) 371-9358.
Francis Casciato, the executive chef at Libby’s Café and Bar, celebrates his heritage with his south Philly beignets. They’re stuffed just shy of the bursting point with house-made mozzarella, fresh basil and a tangy tomato sauce. It’s Casciato’s nostalgic twist on the fried mozzarella fingers his aunts served him as a kid—and guaranteed to create some delicious memories for you. 1917 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota; (941) 487-7300.